Arming the Congo

Amnesty International released a new report today on the arms trade in Central Africa:

In a detailed study, Amnesty International reveals the role played by arms dealers, brokers and transporters from many countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, the UK and USA. The study traces the supply of weapons and ammunition to the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and their subsequent distribution to armed groups and militia in the eastern DRC that have been involved in atrocities amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Amnesty press release)

The report states that British-based firms have been involved in transporting arms to the Congo on behalf of a company controlled by the Albanian government.

Amnesty International has found that three of the companies involved in these five arms deliveries operated from the UK – African International Airways (Crawley, West Sussex), Intavia Ltd (Crawley and Gatwick), and Platinum Air Cargo (Egham, Surrey).(61) According to press reports, Pat Corbin, a former president of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry who is the majority South African shareholder of Africa International Airways, said in early 2004 that AIA had performed the five flights as "government-to-government" transactions.(62) The UK manager of Africa International Airways said his company had performed six flights.(63) UK customs authorities questioned these companies in late 2003 after the UK government was alerted to irregularities in the freight shipment procedures.(64) The DC8 cargo aircraft used for the shipments by Africa International Airways was registered in Swaziland and maintained in South Africa. In addition, Amnesty International has testimony from participants pointing to the involvement of other arms brokers and business intermediaries based in Israel, the Netherlands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.(65) (Amnesty – Arming the East)

Of course, no report of this kind would be complete without a mention of the man who’s become almost synononmous with the world market for illicit arms:

The activities of Russian businessman Victor Vassilyevich Bout and his associates shed light on the process of arms trafficking into Central Africa. Bout has been linked to the arming of members of the DRC government alliance, as well as various armed opposition groups supported by Rwanda and Uganda.(210) Since the early 1990s, Bout has overseen the development of a complex network of over 50 aircraft, several airline companies and freight-forward companies operating in many parts of the world, and he has been under investigation by police agencies and the UN for suspected involvement in sanctions-busting activities in Sub-Saharan Africa.(211)

UN officials have accused Victor Bout of using the United Arab Emirates as a permanent base but using many "flags of convenience" and sub-contracting arrangements for his aircraft to facilitate illegal arms and diamond smuggling activities, particularly in Africa. Victor Bout’s aircraft were allegedly used to take coltan and cassiterite out of DRC; to bring supplies into mining sites in DRC; and to transport military troops and equipment. However, he has never been prosecuted for arms trafficking because of the inadequate laws of most states to regulate arms brokering and arms transporting activities.

Bout’s associate Sanjivan Ruprah also gets a mention:

In February 2002, Sanjivan Ruprah was arrested in Belgium on charges of counterfeiting and carrying a false passport. According to his lawyer in Belgium, he had been trying to sell diamonds in Antwerp on behalf of the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame. A press communiqué of Ruprah’s lawyer in Belgium stated that the Rwandan presidency still owes Victor Bout several million dollars. UN officials investigating the arms trafficking of Victor Bout also found a money transfer from the Rwandan Ministry of Defence to San Air.(217) The Belgian authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Bout in February 2002 charging him for money laundering but the Russian authorities where Bout has resided refused to act on the warrant.

Ruprah is the former chief executive of Branch Energy, a company founded by Tony Buckingham, the British businessman responsible for bringing the South African mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes into the Angolan Civil War.

Its worth noting that Buckingham is also a director and founder of Heritage Oil, a Canadian company with interests in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.







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